Stakeholders in the health sector have continued to react to the bone marrow transplant breakthrough in treating people living with the Human Immune Deficiency Virus.
It would be recalled that last week another patient had achieved remission after receiving a bone marrow transplant in London, United Kingdom.
The London patient, who has chosen to remain anonymous, was first diagnosed with HIV in 2003. He took antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV for years without issue before being diagnosed in 2012 with an advanced form of blood cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
As part of his cancer treatment, he received a bone marrow transplant. The doctors picked a donor bone marrow they knew had a mutation in the CCR5 receptor called “Delta 32,” which prevented CCR5 from being produced altogether.
The patient continued to take antiretroviral drugs for a short time after his transplant in order to ensure that his viral load stayed down. Eighteen months after he stopped the drugs, doctors found that the virus continued to remain undetectable.
Mr Timothy Brown, an American, is considered to be the first person to be cured of HIV or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in 2007 after he underwent hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Reacting to the development, the Project Coordinator, Ondo State State Agency for the Control of Aids, Dr Dayo Adegbulu, in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Tuesday, said the bone marrow transplant might be the way forward in the search for a cure for HIV/AIDS.
He said, “This is progress as it gives hope to people living with HIV. It is still a combination of therapy and the World Health Organisation has not said it is the way to go. At present, the patients have stopped antiretroviral drugs and they are being closely monitored.
“Although it is a good development, it is very expensive and can only be done in limited centres across the world.”
The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Business Coalition Against Aids, Mr Gbenga Alabi, said the cost of a bone marrow transplant will be huge and may not be something the average Nigerian can afford.
“It is better we have medicines that can cure HIV infection, not bone marrow transplant. The future is very bright. Research is ongoing around the world. We are not losing hope and we know that the wait will soon be over,” Alabi said.
He also urged Africans to join the rest of the world in finding a cure to HIV through empirical research that would be acceptable globally.
Meanwhile, a 28-year-old man who has been living with HIV since 2013, who wishes to be known as Michael, told our correspondent that bone marrow transplant might not translate into 100 per cent cure for the disease.
He said, “Personally I don’t think it is something to be happy about because I don’t believe bone marrow transplant is safe. Some people may not survive the transplant. What works for one person may not work for another person. I believe that finding a drug that will cure the disease will be safer.
“I have been on medication since 2013 and these drugs have gone a long way in suppressing the virus. For now, if I go for a test I might be tested negative, but that does not mean I am no longer have the disease. I am still positive because the virus in me is hiding and very low. It is no longer active because the drug has suppressed it.
“We should change the mentality that the drug is just keeping one for a period of time and that one might die soon. I believe that one day the cure will definitely come out but I don’t want to put my hope on a bone marrow transplant.”
For Fredrick Adegboye, a 60-year-old man who has been living with HIV for the past 13 years, any intervention that will cure the disease is welcome.
“I pray the cure for HIV comes soon because I am tired of taking drugs every day. I want the cure to come during my lifetime, not after I am dead. I have been living with it for the past 13 years and I take my drugs twice a day, which means the drug is for the rest of my life, except a cure is found.
“There is still more to be done to protect people living with HIV, in terms of stigmatization. I have friends that are educated and they are still discriminating against me in a subtle manner. If I tell them I want to come to their place they will tell me not to come or suggest that we meet somewhere else,” Adegboye said.
As of 2016, the HIV prevalence rate among adults aged between 15 and 49 years was 3.17 per cent. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS noted that Nigeria had the second-largest number of people living with HIV globally.